Tonight was the last day of Ridley. The last time we gathered together as this specific community to celebrate an amazing year and send people off to the next thing.
We have been part of the Ridley community for Three wonderful years. In that time we have attended two leavers services. This one, the third one was different because its us who are going. Us who are being sent off into the big wide world.
It was a great send off on a day filled with glorious sunshine and nearly everyone had tears streaming down their faces as we left the church.
Not me though. I am an introverted feeler and struggle with processing my emotions in public. I looked with envy at those who are free to process and display emotion during an event. What a release! I need to make time afterwards to take stock and reflect.
These words are my tears.
We first came to visit Ridley on another bright sunny day in the autumn of 2014. Cambridge was picture perfect, the freshly minted academic year was showing off, all crisp leaves and shiny pencil cases.
As we stepped out of our little 3 door Toyota Yaris a fleet of bicycles swept past. I will never forget Matts face! He was convinced it was some sort of bike rally or demonstration. It took me ages to convince him that it was just another busy Wednesday afternoon in the heart of Cambridge.
I loved Ridley the minute I set eyes on it. Red brick and comfortable in its stateliness. Not fancy and showy off like some of the Cambridge colleges, it has a clear purpose and aim. This is a place of diligence and industry and anyone is welcome, not just the super bright.
At the heart of the quad is the chapel, just small enough to feel really cosy during a service, like a family gathering where you all cram in a living room that you’ve outgrown. In our first year you could sneak up the spiral staircase and onto the balcony if you arrived late. Sheepishly lean your back up against the cool stained glass window and put your feet up on an amp.
The roof of the chapel is beautiful wood and designed to look like the curved and upturned hull of a ship. I loved that so much, the thought of us all sailing in that ship together through the rough waters and smooth has carried me through many times.
My Great grandfather was a student at Ridley Hall, years and years ago. My grandmother told me how she would cycle in from Grantchester where they lived during her boarding school holidays to play croquet with the ordinands. I fancied I could see spectres of them crossing the lawn nothing really changes.
I always felt like I belonged here somehow.
On our way home I told Matt that he could suit himself but I was going to Ridley! Luckily he agreed and the following June we packed up our lives and moved into our little shabby chic Cambridge house.
In our first year at Ridley there was a huge intake of students which meant there was a LOT of us. The common room heaved with life and noise and sweat every Thursday when we met for afternoon tea before chapel. There were also lots of families and lots of pregnant people. That year, the year that Clara came along there were ten babies born in total to different families.
Lots of advice and hand-me-downs, Ridley was the best and the worst place to be pregnant, something I’ve written about before. But when Clara arrived, Ridley people cooked for us for two full weeks and were so encouraging and supportive. I remember limping into Ridley with the pram for the first time, incredibly sore from my stitches and the overwhelming feeling of love and support from the community as they welcomed her.
The spouse community was amazing. Though the first impression I got of it as a well-oiled machine was somewhat misleading as I later found out. I think mainly because it was made of people and therefore far from perfect. There were disagreements, bruised parts and areas of brokenness. It also changed a lot in the three years we were here, and not necessarily in an outwardly successful way. Though to me it was wonderful. Whether its thirty or three people, community is precious and I have loved the ever changing nature complicit with somewhere like Ridley.
That first summer term was incredible. Croquet on the lawn while the baby slept. Watching England matches in the common room and getting to know people better. Matt worked hard and got good grades and the long summer holidays were upon us in a flash.
Ridley has really given us the gift of time as a family. Matt has been so flexible and the holidays were so long that we were able to find our way as new parents first to one and then two little girls.
We were determined for them (and me!) to continue to be a part of the community and so committed to a late bedtime on a Thursday night. This often led to horrible tired and grumpy Friday mornings but I wouldn’t have swapped it for the world. It was incredible for me because Clara would stay in the creche run by the ordinands so I got to sit through a whole service uninterrupted and she had an amazing time with them, more community in action.
We said goodbye to the leavers that first year blithe in the knowledge that we had two more years left. It wasn’t until the following year that I heard this phrase and how I viewed Ridley changed forever…
We come to leave.
The point of Ridley is that we are learning how to be vicars and vicar spouses. We are learning the skills to build and nurture community wherever we go. We learn precisely so that we can take what we have learned and put it into practice somewhere else
We come to leave.
In Ridley people are mixed ages, strong and dynamic, lots of young families and such a passion for the lord. The church sadly doesn’t yet look like this everywhere.
So we come to leave.
Us Ridley graduates, we are called to passionately love the church, to support, grow and change it all from the inside. What a joy what a privilege, what an utterly terrifying prospect.
We come to leave.
But as we do leave, here is my reflection…
Ridley has been and complete joy to us, genuinely three of the happiest years of my life so far. The people we’ve met here have been some of the best and big hearted, interesting and intelligent people I’ve ever known. I am so excited that they will be using all we’ve learned here together to serve people in the wider community.
Also we became parents while we were here. In some ways Ridley will always be synonymous with this seismic season of early motherhood. I remember rushing into the common room the Thursday of our first scan waving the picture at anyone who would look! I was sitting in chapel the first time I felt the unborn Sylvie kick, and watched Clara took her first steps on that big beautiful lawn. Saw her learn how to laugh and joke with safe adults in a safe place, learning about the wider church family at such a little age, knowing that she is part of something bigger. And just a million other tiny fragments and memories which I don’t want to forget.
But now its time to leave.
Because you see, Ridley is an ever changing community. People leave every year and no one stays longer than three so every two to three years the community reinvents itself, a slightly different focus and priorities. A slightly different mix of passions and skill sets. It was there long before we came and I hope it will be there long after. Yet there is nothing new under the sun. it all seems to come around and goes around again, ever changing ever constant.
So Ridley Hall we will be forever greatful. For all we’ve learned, the cups of tea, the table football. The croquet in the summer term and the joyous balls. Sweaty chapel services and school dinner teas on a Thursday night. For the beautiful moments and the hard ones.
We are so very grateful.